There’s a reservoir behind our house with a walking track. It’s provided much needed respite on days filled with conference calls during the pandemic. One Monday lunchtime last summer, I threw a Trader Joe’s meal in the oven and headed out into the sticky heat. I had just enough time for a quick lap around the reservoir and a bite to eat before my next meeting.
I felt good, I was wearing a new yellow maxi-dress, flip flops, and big sunglasses. I was listening to my fave nineties Britpop and I was pleased to have squeezed in a break from work. The walking track is fully enclosed and about 50 feet down the track I noticed a man walking towards me. It was odd because you’re only allowed to walk around the reservoir clockwise. As he approached I realized he had pulled his dick out and was squaring his body in my direction.
Anger flashed through me. As he passed, I shouted:
“What are you doing? Put it away!”
I’ve done the self-defence classes: I know this was foolish. But a “fight” reflex took over. I was furious that he was encroaching on this tiny window of time I’d created for myself and I was ready to defend it. Once he passed I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure he was going towards the exit. He kept looking back at me too. I was very aware that the only way out without following him was to do a full loop and that I was alone on the track.
Halfway around the reservoir I realized he hadn’t left. In fact, he was walking back towards me to make another pass. Then he started running straight at me. The fury turned to terror. I did the mental calculation: could I make it to the exit in flip-flops and a full-length dress before he got to me? He was young, slim, and sprinting. It took me a split second to realise I didn’t stand a chance.
I pulled out my phone to ring my husband but he didn’t pick up. By this point I was completely hysterical with fear, my fingers trembling against the call list on my phone screen. I rang my nanny who called the police and pulled my husband out of his conference call. The man must have seen me on the phone because he turned and went back towards the exit. The cavalry arrived and caught him a few streets away. I called my boss from the back of a police car and spent the afternoon giving a statement at the station. By the time I got home my Trader Joe’s meal was burnt to a crisp.
During the Capitol riots on January 6, AOC hid in Rep. Katie Porter’s office. Porter described how AOC wanted to switch her heels for flats so that she could run if the mob found them. I haven’t been able to get that detail out of my head.
My experience at the reservoir left me with the same feeling. The feeling that you wish you’d worn flats instead of heels, sneakers instead of flip-flops, leggings instead of a dress. And it makes me so angry, that AOC went to work and needed to hide, that I took a walk and needed to run. Women shouldn’t have to live their lives ready to sprint from danger.
So when AOC shared her story, I thought I might share mine too. I can’t reclaim the Monday afternoon I lost at the reservoir, but I can claim my story and on International Women’s Day that feels important. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that when women share their stories the truth becomes a little bit clearer, the connections become a little bit stronger, and the movement gets a little bit louder.